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Many Paths awoke in a start and saw that all around her, there was a rosy glow. Why? Her heart raced when a fire-image crept into her mind. She scrambled up and peered outside. Ah. The rosy glow was merely from an unusually beautiful sunrise. She smiled at herself, happy that the alarm had been false. She looked down at her right hand and noticed the studded club in her hand. She had no recollection of having grabbed it. 

Many Paths, suddenly shook her head. She shocked herself to realize that there was a small part of her that was actually sorry it hadn’t been an emergency of some sort. 

{Translator’s Note}: The Veritas were apparently all taught from earliest years to acknowledge seemingly contradictory feelings and then, when conditions permitted, to track down what was going on. It was considered very important not to be living with contradictions of any kind. Factual contradictions, value contradictions, and even emotional contradictions needed to be sorted.  

Failure to resolve or at least understand such conflicts was thought to almost certainly cause problems. From a contradiction of facts, anything can be “proven.” A contradiction of values can lead to vacillation — which is inefficient — as well as breaking trust with others. The Veritas considered the breaking of trust to be a very serious crime. Their whole society, like any free society, was based on trust. Breaking that trust is tantamount to attempting to destroy society. 

A contradiction in feelings did not mean that the tribe member needed to decide which feeling was “correct.” Though they apparently did not have a modern knowledge of anatomy, they were well aware that many parts of our body have muscles arranged in antagonistic pairs. Often feelings are arranged the same way. They considered it important to understand the origins of feelings and then to choose which one to act on based on probable outcomes.

Many Paths quickly realized that a true emergency, a visible enemy, even a necessary evacuation would allow her to do something. And, doing something, anything, would be more pleasant than this incessant waiting. And there were the mutterings. As the days wore on, people looked at her differently. She did not hear any open questioning of her leadership, but when she drew near, she could tell that conversations fell silent or switched to “pleasant” topics. If she were leading them in active battle, they would consider her a more active leader, and she herself would feel as though she was somehow “helping” her tribe reconnect. And, she especially missed Shadow Walker and Tu-Swift. Not knowing whether they were dead or alive or wounded somewhere — these led to extremely unpleasant images and feelings. 

She prepared herself for her day and let it be known that she wished to have a council fire and dialogue that evening. Rather than pretend that everything was wonderful and that her leadership was unquestioned, she thought it better to encourage others to share their ideas about what else might be done. 

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Original Artwork by Pierce Morgan

The rosy glow of the morning gave way to a sweltering day of hazy sunshine. After her own chores were done, she decided to walk among the people and pitch in with their chores and discover what was on their minds individually. She noticed Stone Chipper and his son, Horse Viewer headed back toward the river where Horse Viewer had been the first among the Veritas to see a person standing atop a horse. She thought it worthwhile to quiz them gently when they were back at the precise place where Horse Viewer had first seen those Who Steal Children. Sometimes, people can recall that which first escaped them when they are once again in similar circumstances. Anyway, it would be cool near the creek and Many Paths knew there was a small nearby lake with Pickerel and Arrowhead. She judged it was likely too early to gather the Pickerel seeds but the Arrowhead tubers could be harvested any time. 

They walked in silence for a time. At last they neared the creek and Many Paths said, “Horse Viewer, can you show me where you stood when you first saw the man on the horse?” 

A large, radiant smile lit the small boy’s face. He loped over to a spot near the outlet to the lake. He turned back to the adults, jumped up and down a few times. “Right here! Here’s the spot! I was looking across to there.” 

Many Paths strode up to him quickly. “Can you do me a favor, Horse Viewer? Can you close your eyes, please?” The boy complied as Many Path continued, “Now, can you picture anything else?” 

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“Well,” said the boy without opening his eyes, “there was a kind of rope or strap coming from the mouth of the horse to the hands of the man who stood atop the horse. Although…he didn’t really stand on the horse. He stood on something on the side of the horse. And, the man…the man was wearing a black, hairy mask on the lower part of his face. The man … the man kicked the horse. I think he kicked the horse with his heel into the side of the horse. That’s all I remember.” The boy opened his eyes and stared at Many Paths. 

“Thank you, Horse Viewer. Your memory is good. Can you think of anything else?” 

The boy closed his eyes again, but opened them soon. “No, not really. Except…I couldn’t really see the man very well, but he was … stiff?” 

Many Paths glanced at Stone Chipper and back to the boy. “What do you mean by ‘stiff’?”

Horse Viewer frowned. “I mean. He was riding so fast! He should have been scared or happy or … something… but his face was blank and his body was … stiff … as though he felt neither joy nor fear in riding such a wondrous beast.” 

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Many Paths nodded. “You are a good observer, Horse Viewer. If you think of anything else, let me or your father know.” Now, help find some good stones for arrowheads. We may need many more soon. Meanwhile, I will also be gathering arrowheads. She smiled and gestured toward the margin of the lake. 

Stone Chipper said, “Many Paths. I also have something to say.” 

“Yes? What is it?” 

Stone Chipper looked at Many Paths and said, “I want you to know that I think you are a good leader.” He paused. “I do not think it’s your fault we were attacked at feast. And I don’t think it’s your fault that our search party has not yet returned. And we all of us thought sending a small search party was most appropriate. I don’t think it made sense to send a larger party. We don’t know yet what we are dealing with. As my son said, these people are not … they are not Veritas … and we do not yet know how they think or what other weapons they may have. They lie. We know that much from Friend of Squirrel. To pretend to trade in peace and then attack? They are not good people, I think. They are a great danger to us all. This is not the time for rash action. When you chip a stone properly, you must turn it this way and that. You must chip carefully or you will break the stone so that nothing good is left. I have made such a mistake of too much haste myself. Then, I must start over. We don’t want to break the tribe. That’s all. That’s what I think.” 

Many Paths sighed, nodded, and smiled grimly at Stone Chipper. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate that. She took both his hands in hers, looked in his eyes and said, “you are a fine maker of arrowheads, sir, and you are raising a good son. We will see how long it takes me to gather arrowheads and we may or may not walk back to the Center Place together. But for now I take your leave.” She then strode to the side of the lake. She removed her moccasins, and began wading into the cold, refreshing water. 

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By late afternoon, Stone Chipper and Horse Viewer had gathered a heavy bag full of stones to be chipped. Likewise, Many Paths had a large number of Arrowhead tubers. They decided to return together to the Center Place. They had not gone far though when they came across Trunk of Tree who seemed to have been waiting for them though he seemed surprised to see the three of them together. 

“Hello, Many Paths! Have the three of you been collecting stones?”

Stone Chipper answered, “Well, I have along with Horse Viewer, as you now call him. Many Paths has been gathering for tonight’s feast.”

“Oh. Interesting. Gathering food. May I talk with you privately, Many Paths?” 

She glanced at Stone Chipper who shrugged. Many Paths, said, “Yes. What is on your mind.” Trunk of Tree looked back at Many Paths but said nothing until the other two were well down the path and out of earshot. 

“Many Paths, you know I support you totally, right?” 

“Well, thank you Trunk of Tree. I do appreciate that.”

Trunk of Tree, chewed on his lip for a moment. “Well, yes. The thing is, some of the braves grow impatient. They wish to send out a larger party. They say you are afraid to do that because you’re afraid to find out that Shadow Walker is dead. And Tu-Swift. As long as we all stay here, we will never know and you can pretend they are still alive.”

Many Paths drew back. “What? I — no, I do not think either of them are dead, but if they are, I will get over it. I do not counsel sending more people out until we learn more from those who went to discover more about this enemy. I am not afraid of finding out they are dead. I appreciate your support, but …. “

Trunk of Tree stopped in his tracks and turned toward Many Paths, laying his thick hands upon her upper arms and turning her toward him. “If you truly appreciate my support, why not show it?” 

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Many Paths frowned. “I just said that I appreciated your support. You puzzle me.”

“Many Paths, you are beautiful, but unused to the ways of men. I can show you those ways and you will be a better leader for it. I like you. You know I do. But it is time to acknowledge that Shadow Walker and Tu-Swift are not coming back. You need a family. I can provide that family, if you favor me. Let’s just try a handful of kisses and see how we like it. If either of us doesn’t like it, you can find someone else. But meanwhile….” Trunk of Tree tightened his grip on her arms and drew his body close. He closed his eyes and attempted to plant a kiss on her mouth. She quickly raised both hands above her head and brought them down quickly on the thick forearms of Trunk of Tree. She thus escaped his grip, but only momentarily. “NO!” she screamed. “We talked about this already. I am for Shadow Walker. He’s only been gone a short while. He will return. He’s your friend, or so we both thought. What is with you? I thought you were supporting me! Trying to force a kiss is not supporting me!” 

“I know! I know! I’m sorry. You’re just so beautiful. It is hard to resist.” 

“Trunk of Tree, you are strong. You can do difficult things. So you can leave me alone. I do not want to complicate…it would be such an absurdly bad idea. What do you think would happen?” 

“I think you should raise children with me! I am strong and I could be leader but I would listen to you for advice. We could lead this way together. Strength of body and strength of mind together! No-one would then question us!” 

Many Paths lidded her eyes, set her jaw and looked at him with dagger eyes. “I want people to question me! These are difficult times. I want everyone’s input, but I do not in any way want to raise a family with you. Indeed, I don’t wish to have children now! For what possible purpose? So that they can be stolen away by the horrible People Who Steal Children? If you object to the way I am handling things, then bring it up at the Dialogue after dinner and quit trying to force yourself on me. No. No. NO!” Trunk of Tree again tried to kiss her and this time Many Paths swung her elbow across his nose, breaking it. 

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Original Artwork by Pierce Morgan

Trunk of Tree had now grown angry and felt for a moment like breaking every gone in her body. But he saw that Stone Chipper must have heard their argument and quickly head back down the path toward them. Horse Viewer was close behind. Trunk of Tree grimaced and placed what he thought was a bland, pleasant smile upon his face. “Oh, hello, Stone Chipper. Sorry, we got a little excited at the prospect of killing the People Who Steal Children.” 

Many Paths slowly shook her head and looked at Trunk of Tree with great disappointment. “We’re done talking, Stone Chipper. It’s time to go back now so that we can feast on some Arrowheads.” She spun on her heel and begin striding down the path. Stone Chipper looked sternly at Trunk of Tree and let him pass so that he could keep an eye on him.

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Original Artwork by Zoe Colier

   

After a wonderful feast, capped off with herbal tea, most of the tribe gathered for another Dialogue. Many Paths began. 

“As you know, we all agreed to send out a small search party both to find and return Tu-Swift and also to find out more about the People Who Steal Children. They have not yet returned. I am hopeful they will return soon with knowledge and with Tu-Swift. But I also understand that it is frustrating for the rest of us to feel as though we are doing nothing. Let us together once again contemplate what else we might do.” 

Everyone was silent for a time. At last, Trunk of Tree spoke. “I know I speak for many who are afraid to speak for themselves. We believe the search party is dead or captured. We have learned nothing about these People Who Stand on Horses. We can stay here and do nothing. Or we can go and seek our revenge. I am strong and a warrior. I do not like sitting here like women simply gathering food and waiting to be attacked. I think it is time to consider a new leader.” 

She Who Saves Many Lives spoke next. “And who might that leader be?”

Silence.

Trunk of Tree spoke then. “If no-one else will step up, I will do it. I will find these People Who Stand on Horses and will kill them all.” 

Stone Chipper spoke next. “It is not true that we are simply gathering food and doing nothing else. Just today, I gathered many more stones that I can chip for more arrowhead and spearheads. It will take some time, but not a time overly long. And meanwhile, we all know that we have made it more difficult in many ways and in many places for People Who Stand on Horses to attack us. And, now we are all wary. They fooled us before. They pretended to come in peace. We will not be fooled twice. I, for one, stand with Many Paths.” 

There was a general murmur of assent. 

After much talk of many paths and Many Paths, She Who Saves Many Lives spoke again. “I am very curious, Trunk of Tree. Just this morning, I heard you also support Many Paths. Now you speak against her. What made you change your mind?”

“I thought about it more. That’s all!” Trunk of Tree said. 

His voice held too much anger to signal thinking so She Who Saves Many Lives persisted in her questions. “Does your change have anything to do with your falling down and breaking your nose?” 

Trunk of Tree burst out angrily, “I never said I fell! I…I mean.… I don’t know how I broke my nose. It doesn’t matter!” 

She Who Saves Many Lives laughed gently. “I find that a bit hard to believe. I am a woman who has seen many winters. No doubt, I may sometimes now find that a fly has bitten me when I did not notice. But even I would be quite sure to know when and how I broke my nose. If you do not wish to speak the truth in our deliberations, then, do not speak at all.” 

“WHAT?! All right. You want to know the truth? Many Paths broke my nose!” 

She Who Saves Many Lives smiled slightly. “Really? And why was that?” 

Trunk of Tree blushed scarlet. “She tricked me. She got mad because I told her the truth: that Shadow Walker and Tu-Swift are dead. She didn’t like that.” 

She Who Saves Many Lives spoke even more softly. “Have you seen the bodies?” 

Trunk of Tree grumbled. “NO. Of course not. But why aren’t they back? Everyone knows they’re dead!” 

She Who Saves Many Lives spoke again, “I do not think they are dead. What do you think, Many Paths?” 

“I feel very strongly that neither of them are dead. But…I do feel that both Tu-Swift and Shadow Walker have been injured. I do not know for sure, but that is how I feel. I know it sounds a little odd, but when I touch the Rings, I feel as though I can connect with both of them. I feel as though they are alive. But that is not proof. I would suggest that we think about other defensive measures. 

“I think we should all sleep a sound sleep tonight and we can discuss tomorrow whether we want a new leader. As for me, I cannot for certain foresee the future. I do not believe any leader may guarantee what will happen. Not She Who Saves Many Lives. Not Trunk of Tree. Not me. No-one. So, I have to ask myself what does it mean when someone claims that they know what they do not know?” 

A-OC raised another question. “Is it true what Trunk of Tree said? Did you break his nose?”

Many Paths glanced at She Who Saves Many Lives. “It is true that I broke his nose. Yes. It is not true that I tricked him or that I broke his nose because he said my love and my brother were both dead. Saying this did not make me angry because I believe he is simply wrong. And, one day, we will know the truth of their destiny.” 

P-OC next spoke, “Then why did you break his nose?” 

Many Paths stared at Trunk of Tree. “Trunk of Tree: you and I worked together on many things. We are friends, I think. Why don’t you tell the tribe why you think I broke your nose?” 

Trunk of Tree shut his lips together tightly and folded his arms across his chest. “I will tell you what I think. I think I should be leader. I am strong and decisive. I will lead you to a victorious … victory. I will … we will steal all their things and be richer. That’s what I think and it doesn’t matter why I broke my nose. Let’s vote tomorrow morning as Many Paths suggests. Or does she perhaps want to suggest another twenty things we should think about instead?” 

Trunk of Tree stomped off. The rest of the tribe looked back to Many Paths. 

Many Paths looked at each person and spoke softly. “So be it. We shall vote in the morning. Peace be to all.” She raised her voice and cupped her hands aside her mouth as she added, “And peace to you, Trunk of Tree.” 

Stone Chipper added in a loud whisper, “Or, as we may now call him, ‘Trunk of Tree with Broken Branch’.”

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Original Artwork by Pierce Morgan

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Books by the Author. All are available on Amazon in both paperback and ebook.

The Winning Weekend Warrior focuses on the ‘mental game’ for all sports: strategy, tactics, and self-talk with examples from golf, tennis, softball, etc.

Turing’s Nightmares describes various possible scenarios of the future of technology — especially robotics and Artificial Intelligence.

Fit in Bits suggests many ways to work more fun and exercise into daily activities such as traveling, sitting in meetings, shopping, playing with kids, etc.

Tales from an American Childhood recounts early experiences and then relates them to contemporary issues and events.

Website with earlier stories, essays, and poems.